A Lost, Prophetic Austrian Film from 1924 that Parodies Anti-Semitism

June 12 2018

Released in 1924, the silent film A City without Jews, based on a book of the same title, imagines the expulsion of Jews from Vienna under a radical anti-Semitic government, and was intended to be a satire of the contemporary mood in Austria. While the movie’s existence has long been known to historians, only in 2016 was a complete reel discovered. Renee Ghert-Zand writes:

A Jewish man is beaten up on the street. Jewish husbands are separated from their non-Jewish wives and children and deported on trains. A Jewish community, led by rabbis carrying Torah scrolls, marches down a dark road as it is banished from town. . . .

Although [the original] book has characters clearly based on political figures of the day, the film is a bit looser in its characterizations. Yet, it is clear in the film that the Christian Socialists, [a real and influential anti-Semitic party] have come to power led by the fictional Chancellor Dr. Schwerdtfeger, a fanatical anti-Semite. Convinced that the Jews are ruining the republic, he has the National Assembly pass a law forcing all Jews to emigrate by the end of the year. The Jews—religious and assimilated alike—leave, taking with them whatever belongings they can carry with them.

Soon, everything starts to fall apart. Commerce slows down, the cosmopolitan cafés revert to seedy taverns, and the national currency goes into free fall. Realizing the terrible mistake that has been done, the National Assembly decides to pass a law welcoming the Jews back. . . .

The fate of [the book’s] author, Hugo Bettauer, is one reason why the book and film have not been forgotten. A Jew who converted to . . . Christianity, [Bettauer] was lethally shot by a Nazi named Otto Rothstock. He died on March 26, 1925 at age fifty-two. . . . The film’s director, [however], went on to join the Nazi party.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Austria, Austrian Jewry, Film, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Vienna

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war